You would be hard-pressed to estimate my excitement when I saw the following album in my Amazon Prime Music App.
This is an excellent recording of the Daily Offices – prayer services that fill the day with worship and praise. First, let’s define some terms using the Liturgical Glossary of the LCMS…
Services of prayer offered at established times each day. Already at the time of Jesus, set times for prayer were customary (Acts 3:1). By the sixth century, eight services of prayer, which included psalms and readings from Scripture, were observed in the monasteries. Since the Reformation, this schedule has been simplified to three times of prayer: Morning (Matins), afternoon/evening (Vespers), and close of the day (Compline).
In the Lutheran Confessions, liturgy is defined as “public service” in the sense that the proclamation of the Gospel and administration of the sacraments is God’s service done on behalf of his people. Sometimes the word is used to denote an order of service, though the more specific terms “order of service” or “ordo” are preferred.
MatinsThe first of eight daily prayer services that developed during the Middle Ages for use in the monasteries. At the time of the Reformation, these services were reduced to two: Matins in the morning and Vespers in the evening. Matins is a Middle English word that comes from Latin for “of the morning.”
A Latin word meaning “evening.” Originally one of eight daily offices prayed during the Middle Ages, Vespers was retained at the time of the Reformation as one of two daily services, the other being Matins. Sometimes also referred to as Evening Prayer.
Similar in nature to bedtime prayers, Compline is the last of the daily prayer offices that came into use during the Middle Ages. Prayed in later evening, the service is simple in nature and includes this appropriate antiphon for use with the Nunc Dimittis: “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace.”
In general, a responsory prayer with repeated congregational responses. In the Divine Service, the Kyrie is sometimes cast in the form of a litany, with the congregation responding to each petition with the words, “Lord, have mercy.” An expanded form of this litany is found in Evening Prayer. The most comprehensive form of the litany is the medieval version that was revised by Luther and still appears in hymnals today.
A method of singing liturgical texts that are not metered (as in a hymn). Most chant consists of short phrases that are sung responsively between pastor and people. Psalms may also be chanted as well as parts of the liturgy (e.g., the Gloria in excelsis, The Lutheran Hymnal, p. 17).
Now, the question you are probably asking, “Why would DW be so excited about this?”
There are several contributing factors:
- I was raised in a church that utilized a fair amount of chanted liturgy, especially the Venite. I have experienced even more chanted liturgy since joining the Lutheran Church in 1992.
- The popularity of chanted liturgy is waning, and I miss it dearly.
- I read the Benedict Option by Rod Dreher this summer where a bold apologetic for the disciplines of worship was made.
- And finally, I experienced two breath-taking chanted worship services at the Texas District Convention of the LCMS last June. This is explains my excitement when I found the CPH Album shortly after that convention.
- I felt a great need for more structure for my devotional life.
Therefore, I began in late June to listen to Morning Prayer in the morning during breakfast, pausing to read the Bible on my BlueLetter Bible App (My #1 recommended Bible App).
In the summer, I often drive home for lunch to get some extra family time. So I would listen to Matins on the way home. I would listen to Vespers on the way back to work. I’d listen to Evening Prayer on the way home from work at the end of the day. And saving the best for last, I would listen to Compline with my head on the pillow at the very end of the day.
Did I do this EVERY day? No.
Did I get at least 2 in every day for two (going on three) months? Yes.
So what? Glad you asked…
I am 100% Lutheran when it comes to the view of participation in works. Listening to these services, singing along with all my heart and with a full voice, and praying the prayers did nothing to aid my salvation. There is no works-based or participatory merit system in play.
So what do I “get” from it?
I experienced all the following thoughts and feelings at various times. I am sure these are common to many people when they encounter chanted liturgical worship. I’ll outline them very briefly.
I was curious about the various prayers and canticles. I was pleased to recognize many of them as hymns of praise directly from Scripture like the Magnificat, the Nunc Dimittis, the Benedictus, and the Venite.
The opening word in the Latin text of the song of Mary from Luke 1:46—55, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” This New Testament canticle has been sung at the daily service of Vespers (Evening Prayer) for some 1,500 years.
Nunc Dimittis (noonk di-MIT-iss)
Latin for “now dismiss.” These are the words spoken by Simeon as he held the 40-day-old Jesus in his arms (Luke 2:25—35). One of the New Testament canticles, it was traditionally used in the daily service of Compline and as an alternate to the Magnificat in Vespers. In the Lutheran Church it is also appointed for use following the distribution of the Lord’s Supper.
Latin for “oh, come.” The title for the song of praise taken from Psalm 95 that is sung at the beginning of Matins/Morning Prayer. The first line reads, “Oh, come, let us sing to the Lord.” (Above, from the Liturgical Glossary)
(also Song of Zechariah or Canticle of Zachary), given in Gospel of Luke 1:68-79, is one of the three canticles in the opening chapters of this Gospel, the other two being the “Magnificat” and the “Nunc dimittis”.
As mentioned my earliest childhood memories of church were of singing the Venite in particular. The tune in Matins is exactly the same as the one I sung as a small boy in the Episcopal Church in the early 70’s.
Connection to the Past
I feel a deep connection to the body of Christ – his church – singing words and tunes that predate all the schisms that have occurred throughout the centuries. Ancient vs Modern, East vs West, Protestant vs Catholic – we disagree on creeds, councils, and popes, but we still sing the Magnificat and other canticles to tunes that have been in use for well over 1000 years. Amazing.
Some of the song tunes were familiar, but many were not. It was very enjoyable to learn them over time. If singing along, I would mess many of them up. But I knew that over time I would get better. Taking a long view helped. It is a new and interesting exercise – practicing the liturgy, daily. In fact, that is what a DISCIPLINE is. It is “an activity or experience that provides mental or physical training.”
[1Co 9:26-27 CSB] 26 So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. 27 Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
Negative Emotions or Responses
It is important to point out the cons as well as the pros.
Pride is always a risk. It is also one of the most difficult emotions to guard against. Even the acknowledgement that it is a risk can lead to pride in one’s own self-awareness. This is a bottomless pit. Therefore, it is best not to “selfie” the Daily Offices. Focus on worshiping God, not on the act of worshiping God. And PRAY for mercy. The Holy Spirit can accurately diagnose and alert one’s heart to the rise of pride.
[Jhn 16:7-8 CSB] 7 “Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send him to you. 8 “When he comes, he will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment:
Do the same thing long enough and the mind, especially the smart-phone-induced-short-attention-span mind, becomes bored. I know the words and tunes by now.
The well-known risk of rote behavior is real. So what is the remedy? Here are a few that I have experienced this summer.
- Check my motives. Why am I singing these songs of praise? Am I doing them to merely learn them? If so, then job done. But, if I am actually praising God, then they are merely a vehicle for my praise. This adds weight back to the practice.
- Move beyond the self-satisfaction of knowing the words and tunes. Now that I know them, I can meditate on them as I sing them. They become a deeper part of my thinking. THIS has allowed the words of praise to become MY OWN.
Don’t miss this. It took time and practice for these hymns of praise and tunes to penetrate my mind to a level that they became a part of me and how I worship God.
This fact alone is what bothers my conscience with the cut-and-paste bulletin liturgies of the modern church. I cannot deeply mean a prayer to my God that I have just been handed in a church bulletin. I need to chew on these prayers for months, years, and maybe decades before they become an inseparable part of my soul and my soul’s song to God. My favorite prayer is in the service of Compline.
Abide with us Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. Abide with us and with Your whole Church. Abide with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, and the end of the world. Abide with us with Your grace and goodness, with Your holy Word and Sacrament, with Your strength and blessing. Abide with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us, the night of fear and despair, the night when death draws near. Abide with us and with all the faithful, now and forever. Amen.
It will take time for me to memorize this prayer, and I look forward to the task over time.
In fact, Luther in the preface to the Small Catechism entreats pastors and teachers to
…above all be careful to avoid many kinds of or various texts and forms of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Sacraments, etc., but choose one form to which he adheres, and which he inculcates all the time, year after year. …
Is boredom a risk? Always. Are there fertile valleys on the other side if we would check our motives and cultivate a meditative attitude on what we are saying and singing? Yes.
Ending on a Positive Note
As I approach the car to head home, I now face a temptation to “move on”. I’ve experimented with the Daily Offices. It was enriching, but I’d really like to listen to another Issues Etc podcast.
Is this boredom? A quest for novelty elsewhere? Both? Not sure. I have skipped a few times to keep from being legalistic about these things. (Nice self-justification, there.)
Other days, I stayed the course and listened/sang through the service.
I have noticed repeatedly, that these tunes stick in your head for several hours and often days. I have also noticed repeatedly, that having words of praise rattling around in your head all day is a GOOD thing. These unexpected blessings are magnificent.
One of the first Bible memory verses I ever learned as a child was Psalm 119:11 “Thy word I have hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” I have thought all my life that memorizing a Bible verse was the same as hiding it in my heart. And to an extent I still think that is true.
I have come to see that these songs of praise have gone deeper into my mind, soul, and heart than any short or long-term mnemonically-memorized verse can ever hope to go.
These songs of praise and prayer are singing through my mind as I go about my work, When temptations arise there is a major mental showdown. It is very difficult to block out the beauty of the chanted daily offices so I can indulge in a petty yet dangerous diversion. Thy Word has been planted deep in my heart.
Sometimes it is tempting in the evening to just crash without a bath, but it is always better in my opinion to wash the day away. So now, when I approach the car and think, “am I going to listen to Matins on the way home?” I see it as taking a mental bath, and it serves its intended purpose by renewing my mind.
[Rom 12:1-2 CSB] 1 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
My participation in the Daily Offices has been a powerful experience in many ways. They are straight from the Scripture and appear to be renewing my mind. My hope is that they, with regular study of the Scripture, will fulfill Jesus prayer for me (and for you) in John 17.
[Jhn 17:17 CSB] 17 “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”
In Closing, I’d like to point out that since I have downloaded this album to my phone I have played snippets of it to three other people. All three lit up and wanted more.
It has been like dropping a spark onto dry grass.
I didn’t expect that at all. I thought I was a little off in my love for the ancient tunes and songs of the Daily Offices. Maybe I’m not.
Love to all,